How to Photograph Amphibians and Reptiles

The following information is provided to help you take identifiable photographs of amphibians and reptiles. These guidelines should work most of the time, but you may find your own method works better. Let us know what works for you. Be sure to review which species require documentation. Also, a photograph is needed for a sighting to be considered verified. Photographs of all species are encouraged. Take two or three pictures and send the best. (See "Reporting NH Herp Sightings" for further explanation.)

Know the limitations of your camera. Fixed focus (point and shoot) cameras can not focus closer than three or four feet. Read your instruction manual to be sure. Some slightly blurry pictures will work, but most will not. Best is a reflex camera with a macro lens, or extension rings behind a regular lens.

In order to get a decent (i.e. recognizable) photograph, you might have to handle a specimen every so often. Pictures of a herp held in the hand are perfectly acceptable.
However, large snapping turtles and water snakes should never be handled at all. And be careful of the tails of most salamanders -- they easily detach.

FROGS: Virtually all frogs can be identified by a 3/4 view, where you are slightly above and off to one side of the animal. This will show marks on the back (such as the number of warts per black spot on toads), the presence or absence of dorso-lateral folds on their sides, or other features.

SALAMANDERS: The vast majority are easily identified from a photograph that is taken directly above them. Since many species are small, however, try to get as close as your lens will allow. Try to show all legs. It is often best to place the salamander on some neutral colored background (a leaf, piece of light bark, a shirt, or backpack) for contrast. For a four-toed salamander, get either a good close up (at least half filling the frame) of the top and/or a picture of its diagnostic underside. A picture of the belly is often helpful.

TURTLES: Most of the time, a good picture of the top shell (carapace) will suffice. The young of some species of turtles have a much different pattern from the adults, so be sure to get a good clear shot. Occasionally, spotted and box turtles are uniformly dark and their patterns are indistinct. Add a picture of the bottom shell (plastron) as well.

SNAKES: As a group, snakes have a wide variation in colors and patterns, even within members of the same species. Hatchling and neonate (newborn) snakes can be dramatically different from the adults in their colors and patterns (e.g. black racer, northern water). Some species (hognose, redbelly) have various color morphs in the adults. It is best, if possible, to photograph snakes from above from as close (and safe) a position as possible.
 

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